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Action needed on rising rates of suicide among ex-prisoners

Ten people die each week in the UK following supervised release from prison

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

In the last 12 months 10 people died each week following supervised release from prison, according to new research*.

There were 153 self-inflicted deaths among those on post-custody supervision in 2018-19, compared with 24 in 2010-11, Ministry of Justice data analysed by the report reveals, although this is partly down to improved recording.

The suicide rate among people leaving prison in 2018-19 was 212 per 100,000, while for people serving community orders and suspended sentence orders - who are under supervision but have not been jailed, the rate falls to 132 per 100,000, Inquest said. The rate for prisoners is about 83 per 100,000 and among the general population it is about 14 per 100,000.

The report was co-authored by Dr Jake Phillips of Sheffield Hallam University and Rebecca Roberts of Inquest the charity which supports next of kin following “state-related deaths”.

It provides an overview of what is known about the deaths of people on post-custody supervision following release from prison. It highlights the lack of visibility and policy attention given to this growing problem and calls for immediate action to ensure greater scrutiny, learning and prevention.

It makes the following recommendations:

  • The government should proceed with its national review of deaths of people on post-release supervision in the community following a custodial sentence to establish the scale, nature and cause of the problem.
  • More detailed and accurate data should be made available along with regular reporting to the minister responsible and Parliament alongside the publication of an annual report.
  • Deaths of people on post-custody supervision should be investigated by an independent body with adequate resources allocated to allow this to happen. There needs to be a threshold for this with a range of factors taken into account.
  • The government needs to confirm oversight at a local and national level.

In the foreword to the report Inquest’s director Deborah Coles, said: “The figures are deeply disturbing and require urgent scrutiny, due to the current lack of independent investigation into these deaths. Without this, we cannot fully understand what is happening or how it could be addressed. What is clear however is that people are being released into failing support systems, poverty, homelessness and an absence of services for mental health and addictions. This is state abandonment. The silence, inaction and institutional indifference surrounding deaths of people following release from prison must end.”

In light of the sharp rise in the number of deaths over recent years, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the National Probation Service have committed to performing an in-depth review of the deaths of people under post-sentence supervision. This will include working closely with the Office for National Statistics to improve the quality of the data and to inform the Ministry of Justice’s understanding. The review is due to be completed by March 2020.

However, it is understood that while probation staff help offenders find access to vital services including healthcare, housing and treatment for drug and alcohol problems, the Ministry does not expect them to have sole responsibility for caring for the people they are supervising.

The Prisons Ombudsman opened investigations into 334 deaths in 2018-19, 96% of which were of people in prison. The only deaths of people under probation supervision that were investigated by the Ombudsman were those of 12 residents in probation approved premises, some of whom will have been on post-custody supervision, the Inquest paper said.

*Deaths of people following release from prison. A report prepared by Inquest, November 2019.


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